Dr. Dre didn’t discover Anderson .Paak as a new, undeveloped artist with latent promise. No, the Oxnard, California-born renaissance man had clocked more than 10,000 hours into his polished craft when the founder and CEO of Aftermath Entertainment scouted .Paak’s talent for his 2015 album, Compton. Standing tall on six of the 16 records from Dre’s long-awaited third studio album brought newfound visibility to the underground artist with a style that seamlessly blends picturesque rapping and soulful singing.
Stardom isn’t possible without opportunity. Compton was the beginning, an introduction to a broader, mainstream audience. The Oxnard talent was ushered into ears by the same patron who presented N.W.A, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and countless others to the world. By the end of January 2016, Anderson .Paak was announced as the latest Aftermath signee. Opportunity was knocking.
Before sharing his Aftermath debut with the world, .Paak liberated two independent albums in 2016: Malibu, a masterful solo album, and Yes Lawd!, a collaborative project with producer Knxwledge under the moniker NxWorries. Both releases received glowing praise and widespread ovation. The two offerings felt like the foundation in which the age of Anderson would be built on.
Delivering a strong debut with the major label machine behind him is the next phase in his takeover. After two years of preparation, Anderson .Paak’s Oxnard is here. Let the congregation say…. yes Lawd!
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "The Chase" ft. Kadhja Bonet
The sound of seagulls, the ocean, and car keys. Vince Staples will appreciate this. Someone is flipping through radio stations. Anderson's name was said over the airwaves. Kadhja is singing. She has a voice fit for Flying Lotus’ Until the Quiet Comes. Slow buildup. I like the mood. Blaxploitation vibes. The tempo is starting to rise like the temperature of a human body infected by the flu. Decent drums. Anderson has arrived. Rapping. The Sonny Liston bar is a nice nod to the former championship boxer. Cool intro. The funky bassline screams Doc Dre. I like how the title is Oxnard and the intro has all the bells and whistles of entering a city in California. The sound of a car...
2. "Headlow" ft. Norelle
Swelling harmonies. Something about a woman giving head. Anderson is rapping. Eh, a song about getting head while driving. Anyone who read or watched Neil Gaiman's American God will know this could end horribly. I’m not impressed by this production. It’s not very… Grabbing. Flat. The singing is just fine, but I’m hearing a song fit for the background of a MacBook commercial rather than the second track of a big, major album release. Where is the risky thrill of performing sexual acts in public? Where is the excitement? Transitioned into a skit. Anderson crashed his car…while receiving head…that was…anticlimactic.
3. "Tints" ft. Kendrick Lamar
The first single. I like the buildup. I love how Anderson enters this record. “Tints” is smooth and breezy. It sounds like viewing palm trees and the shoreline from within an expensive car. Admittedly, the production just doesn’t speak to me. The bounce is there, but it isn’t the knock that captivates. Both Kendrick and .Paak lean into the calmness, their performances aren’t high-energy. “Tints” reminds me of Nicki Minaj’s “Rich Sex,” in that both songs that don’t necessarily capture the energy of their concepts. A song about needing tinted windows as a famous rapper should sound luxurious—like you have something worth hiding—but “Tints” is more used 2006 Lexus than a brand new 2018 Rolls-Royce Wraith. Still, I’ll take a Lexus over a Ford Focus any day. Not a bad record, or a bad pick for a single, I just want more of something that’s not there.
4. "Who R U?"
As soon as the drums dropped I knew this would be a skip. Unlike “Tints,” I don’t understand why "Who R U?" would be picked as a single. Why is it on the album? It’s molded to be a fun record—the thought is there—but it’s as fun as a tea party in a cemetery. I’ve heard countless .Paak verses and this one isn’t it. This isn’t the sonic world he operates in. But even his best vocal performance would struggle to save the messy, generic production. The breakdown makes you want to sit down rather than get up and dance. He should’ve called the Migos for ad-libs and not the big boss.
5. "6 Summers"
“Trump has a love child,” wow. I can’t put my finger on it, but the production is very hard to fall for. There’s a sense of disorder that gives it a unique sound, but it’s also far from enamoring. Messy, just messy. The spoken-word style has a lot of relevant lyricism but I don’t see this banging next summer, especially not 6 summers from now. I'm sorry, Anderson. The stripped-down section is an improvement. I agree, take the AK’s out of the inner cities. Knowing what Dre and .Paak did with the song “Animals” makes this record a huge letdown. There are some lyrics that are timely—the message is necessary—but the musical messenger doesn’t deliver.
6. "Saviers Road"
Yeah, I don’t know what is going on with these beats. Anderson is far from the musical landscape that he’s known for. While I commend him for going outside his comfort zone and the contemporary trap palette, “Saviers Road” is elevator music for an alien spacecraft. I do like these voices. Anderson just weaved inside. He sounds good. Okay, once .Paak starts spitting and the snare starts kicking we good. Yeah, this verse is good. “I would sell you faith but you niggas don’t believe.”
7. "Smile / Petty"
The bassline is gold. I’m liking this one, so far. It’s a warm, relaxing vibe. I love his usage of women vocalists. The vocal textures have been the best part. Switch-up. “Smile” was nice. I didn’t care for the lyrics, but I like the music. I would keep it as a solo record, though. The funk! Yes! It’s a groove that crawls up your back and makes your shoulders bounce. If Anderson wanted to release a funk album in 2020 I would be first in line to purchase it. Solid overall. Would add to my Anderson .Paak song collection.
8. "Mansa Musa" ft. Dr. Dre & Cocoa Sarai
Eh! What is going on with these drums? Where is the KNOCK!? They sound fit for background music on a Game Boy Color video game. Cocoa Sarai with the attitude. Dr. Dre… “Made a billion off my bullshit and did it high as hell.” I don’t know about that verse, man. I really don’t know. What is this song meant to accomplish? I mean, I understand wanting to talk your shit, but this ain’t it. The braggadocio feels forced. Anderson’s flow switch was a nice, sudden tornado. Overall, "Mansa Musa" is the opposite of what JAY-Z accomplished on “Imaginary Players.”
9. "Brother's Keeper" ft. Pusha T
This sounds like outlaw music. Yeah, this is it. TOUGH! The track builds up with such big, soaring momentum. Sing it, Anderson. Pusha! Did Malice turn really turn down a million dollars? The story is a wild way to come on a record. “They still asking about the duo.” This is authentic crack music. Pusha T is having a stellar year. Beat switch. Sounds familiar. I like the groove. Enjoyed this one tremendously. It’s the music I’ve come to expect from Anderson. Keeper.
10. "Anywhere" ft. Snoop Dogg & The Last Artful, Dodgr
Uncle Snoop! “This the beat that makes me reminisce on G-funk.” I hope Snoop raps until he’s 75. Age hasn’t ruined moments like this. He sounds so good. Nate Dogg and Warren G shout-outs. Anderson sounds better than free Chick-fil-A on Sunday. Funky soul music. It’s Saturday house party music. Dodgr! Everyone showed up with exquisite vocals. It’s like being wrapped in a blanket sewn with a grandmother’s love.
11. "Trippy" ft. J. Cole
Okay, he's two for his last two. Let’s see if Anderson can make a late album run. T.V. snippet. I'm liking what this buildup is foreshadowing. Random thought: I want to see what Anderson would do with Flying Lotus. [Editor's Note: .Paak and Flying Lotus were in the studio in January 2017. No clue what happened there.] I like this one. A nice, mid-tempo love song. The singing rap style is the perfect form for a verse like this. Why did Cole come in so heavy? My man cannot read a room. The verse isn't bad, but it sounds out of place like he sent over an a cappella and they inserted it on the song. He’s rapping, though. The guest verse run isn’t completely tainted, but he could’ve delivered those bars with some eloquence. Closing harmonies are silk. This one is fine. A standout on the album, but doesn’t begin to touch what Anderson has done in the past.
12. "Cheers" ft. Q-Tip
Okay! Here we go! NOW WE TALKING. This is a beat! This jazziness was sent from above. .Paak just referenced Mac. I’m crying. I can’t believe how good this is! Gorgeous, just gorgeous. Anderson isn’t in his bag, he’s an entire JanSport store. If I had a toupee it would be on the floor next to my tapping foot. Breakdown! He’s taking us to a different world. Q-Tip! This is a good verse. “Sick of sending flowers to all my brother's mommas.” Woo! That’s a word. “I know what it means to lose everything when you made it.” This is a RECORD. Is that Terrace Martin on the horn? Whoever is on the horn just caught two bodies. Masterful, just masterful.
13. "Sweet Chick" ft. BJ the Chicago Kid
BJ with the soul. Another song that is incredibly warm. What the hell is Anderson talking about? He really heard this beautiful instrumental and thought it was the perfect canvas to talk about all these different women in his life? Nah, nahhhh. It just doesn’t work as an engaging record. It’s supposed to be fun, but that’s been an ongoing issue with Oxnard: the fun isn’t there. I’ll come back for the beat and BJ.
14. "Left to Right"
.Paak came on with the touch of patois on his inflection. It’s… Yeah, no, sir. Is that Busta Rhymes doing ad-libs? Ha, that’s something. I like the bar about missing him like we miss Obama. Simple, but not a lie. Well, this is one way to end an album...
Final (first listen) thoughts on Oxnard:
Oxnard is generic in ways that .Paak has never been, and dull in ways I never imagined he could be. There’s no exhilaration; neither the creative rush of Malibu nor the compelling captivation of Yes Lawd! were inserted into this collection of songs. Anderson picked an odd batch of beats, and instrumentation that isn’t in harmony with his style of rapping and singing.
What I’ve loved about Anderson .Paak since Venice—his 2014 debut album—is the creative confidence in his music. Every bar, note, and concept has felt concise and assured—until now. No matter what kind of record he created, his artistic identity was always in the forefront. Oxnard is the first Anderson .Paak project that doesn’t feel like an Anderson .Paak project.
Of course, artists aren’t married to their previous projects, and .Paak is too gifted to perform the same tricks over and over, but the tricks performed throughout Oxnard fail to highlight the same talent we fell in love with over the past half-decade. The funk isn’t his brand of funky, the songwriting doesn't carry the fire that's constant in his music, the dynamism is a far cry from his usual potency, and the ideas are lusterless. Oxnard is like watching someone you’ve only watched fly take their first wobbling step and fall while doing so.
Despite being named after his birthplace, Oxnard isn’t an invitation to his home. I don’t know whose home this is.
For more sponsored hip-hop video content like this, subscribe to the ADM YouTube channel here.